Tuesday, October 31, 2006


Far too much going today so this is going to be a quick splurge on a couple of publications that came in recently. Some stories close to us leap out.

Ethical Consumer (November/December) with a special feature on chocolate.

"In the UK we each consume 7 kg of chocolate every year" writes Nicola Scott and reviews a selection of brands, giving an ethiscore out of 20 to each.

There is Nestlé in pride of place - right at the bottom on zero.

There is special mention of Baby Milk Action's boycott call. Nestlé is also marked down for: poor environmental reporting, destruction of habitats and resources, animal testing, factory farming, abuses of human and worker's rights, irresponsible marketing, genetic engineering, interference in politics and anti-social finance. It does have top rating for no apparent links to nuclear power or armaments, but it is too weighed down with the rest to climb above zero.

Also the Breastfeeding Network newsletter from September:

A report on a paper produced by IBFAN and WABA called: "Towards Healthy Environments for Children: Frequently asked questions (FAQs) about breastfeeding in a contaminated environment", written by Penny van Esterik et al, reviewed by Barbara Farmer and available on the site we maintain for IBFAN.

An article about tea promoted from too early an age which had been reported through our UK monitoring website: "I filled out the form on the Baby Feeding Law Group website, (really easy if anyone else wants to do the same .. http://www.babyfeedinglawgroup.org.uk/) That gave me the clue that we might have a case under the UK Law, too.... The lady from Trading Standards phoned me the next morning after I had sent an email, and she will be taking it up".

And this news snippet:

"And Lisa thought you might be cheered by this extract from the most recent newsletter from her daughter's primary school: '...we are not collecting N***** 'boxtops for books' tokens as some parents have expressed concerns about N*****'s policies in the Third World.'"

What we send out into the world travels around and comes back to us.

True for us all.

Monday, October 30, 2006

Encouraging children to read

We're in the Sunday paper again.

'Now Nestlé - are you sitting comfortably?' reads the top article in the Pendennis section of The Observer (see http://observer.guardian.co.uk/7days/story/0,,1934190,00.html).

I guess the journalist, Oliver Marre, like me, remembers Jackanory, a programme on BBC television until 1996. Popular actors and childrens presenters read stories from books for 5 minutes before the news. They always began: "Now children - are you sitting comfortably? Then I'll begin."

The article is about a prize for the best new children's book. It is organised by the Book Trust and is currently sponsored by Nestlé. The article recalls the Nestlé Perrier Award for Comedy, which Nestlé pulled out of earlier this year following protests from performers and the public. A new sponsor was found and the Award goes on under a new name.

There was a bit of a stink over the book prize a few years ago. It had been known as the Nestlé Smarties Prize and was attracting the attention of boycott supporters. In 2002 one of the winners, Richard Platt, was embarrassed to find his prize was sponsored by Nestlé and donated an equivalent amount to Baby Milk Action (we had a poll of supporters over whether it was right to accept this - see donation dilemma).

Then a whole host of authors signed a letter composed by Melvin Burgess saying they would not accept a proposed teenage book prize if it was sponsored by Nestlé. This was picked up by the book industry and national press. Plans were suspended and the Booktrust Director was quoted as saying: "...a Nestlé Teenage Prize cannot take place if it doesn't have the support of writers." The teenage book prize did go ahead, but without any sign of Nestlé involvement. It is instead promoted by the Reading Agency.

The books up for the Nestlé children's book prize have just been shortlisted and a selection of schools will be invited to have their students vote for their favourites. A great idea, if it weren't for the Nestlé link. As The Observer quotes Baby Milk Action: "It is highly questionable why the Book Trust, which presumably cares about the interests of children, is bringing in a company known, apart from the baby food issue, for its unhealthy foods, targeting of children and contribution to child obesity."

We already have a box-top campaign pack, used by children and parents who oppose the Nestlé box-tops for education scheme. In that scheme Nestlé recruits teachers to promote its cereals to children - the majority of which are criticised as being unhealthy. For each box top the school receives 10 pence. As a result of opposition many schools have written to parents explaining why they are not supporting the scheme, some have agreed to be listed on our website.

Nestlé tries similar strategies in other countries. I've recently had an email from a boycott supporter and blog reader in the US who is opposing a Nestlé scheme promoting bottled water with an offer of sports equipment. It is a phenomena in recent years that companies which market unhealthy foods are giving sports equipment to kids, usually as part of a promotion to increase sales. If they are not challenged, the company wins both ways.

Sponsorship by dodgy companies strikes me as being a bit like carbon-offsetting. In carbon-offsetting you counter balance the harm to the environment caused by taking a plane by buying a tree that will absorb the carbon. I think I'll call the companies' strategy 'bad image offsetting'. The companies try to counter balance a bad image from their unethical practices in one area by doing something that looks good somewhere else to absorb it.

The more bad image produced, the more offsetting necessary. In 1999 the UK Advertising Standards Authority upheld all of Baby Milk Action's complaints against a Nestlé anti-boycott advertisement. In response Nestlé announced a million pounds of sponsorship to four charities, to absorb the bad image. (It did go a little bit wrong for Nestlé, but that's another story).

So back to the book award. If your school is asked to join in then let us know.

If you would like materials to spread awareness of the boycott, we can provide these.

If your school is refusing to get involved, we can add you to a list.

If you are an author who would refuse the prize, please tell us.

If you want, you could contact the Book Trust and suggest they choose a different sponsor. Please be polite if you do make contact or it will be counter productive. We hope the Book Trust will follow the example of the Perrier Award organisers and find another sponsor.

What is sad to see is organisations taking Nestlé money and then actively helping it with the bad image offsetting. The Book Trust press release announcing the short list says:

"The Nestlé Children's Book Prize is sponsored by Nestlé UK Ltd, one of the UK's largest food and beverage manufacturers, and a major supporter of charities helping children and teenagers."

It is unsurpising that the press release does not want to draw attention to the Nestlé's human rights abuses and other malpractice. But why promote Nestlé as a supporter of other children's charities? Was it a condition of the funding?

How much bad image can Nestlé expect to be absorbed by its strategy? Surely nowhere near enough when so much bad image is produced: by Nestlé's aggressive marketing of baby foods, targeting of children with unhealthy foods, failing to act over child slavery in its cocoa supply chain and all the other things that harm children.

Will the promotion in schools convince children that Nestlé cares about them as people, not just consumers? Perhaps. Perhaps not.

It is our hope that this year the Nestlé Children's Book Prize will result in a lot more reading - of the evidence against Nestlé.

Saturday, October 28, 2006

Health claims - a goldmine

As explained yesterday, we have to counter the lobbying of the industry folk who pack out the meetings about the Food Code (known as Codex Alimentarius). Our task is to ensure the interests of infants and their families are put before company profits. We often find governments are also pushing the industry line. That is the governments of rich industrialised countries where the companies are based. Developing countries are generally doing all they can to protect infants, and to defend the requirements adopted by the World Health Assembly. Yet they have a problem in getting to these events because of the expense. They are also prey to the companies who offer to fund or even provide experts to attend the meetings. Codex Alimentarius has set up a fund to help fund representatives from developing countries (which we campaigned to be kept free from industry influence), but even so there is a big imbalance.

One of the hot issues at last year's World Health Assembly was the use of health claims about formula. Monitoring we and our partners in the International Baby Food Action Network (IBFAN) do shows how companies use health claims to promote breastmilk substitutes (here's some from the UK).

You may have seen things like this in company materials: "Recent studies have shown that feeding your baby with an infant formula fortified with LCPs may lead to improved IQ scores and better eyesight in later life. LCPs are naturally present in breast milk." (This is from SMA).

If you are not breastfeeding and want the best formula for your baby, it would seem wrong not to buy the formula with the LCPs if you read this. That is what the companies rely on and all have rushed to add LCPs.

LCPs are Long Chain Poly Unsaturated Fatty Acids (also known as LCPUFAs). Yet the word 'may' is very deliberate in SMA's claim above. Independent evaluation of the research has been done by an expert organisation, called the Cochrane Library, which found: "At present there is little evidence from randomised trials of LCPUFA supplementation to support the hypothesis that LCPUFA supplementation confers a benefit for visual or general development of term infants".

The companies are being a little bit naughty then.

After a debate at the World Health Assembly last year governments agreed a Resolution saying they were: "Concerned that nutrition and health claims may be used to promote breast-milk substitutes as superior to breastfeeding".

So they called on all governments who are members of the World Health Assembly: "to ensure that nutrition and health claims are not permitted for breast-milk substitutes...". However, there was pressure from the rich countries and additional words were added: "...except where specifically provided for in national legislation."

So health and nutrition claims are prohibited unless they are allowed.

Which means country by country, the same arguments have to happen over again. We have just gone through this at the European Union. A new EU law (a Directive) on infant and follow-on formula allows companies to put on labels an: "added LCP or an equivalent nutrition claim."

Which could legitimize the type of promotional strategies used by the companies.

Our view is if something is really necessary to improve formula then it should be in all formulas. Infants who are not breastfed are already at a disadvantage. Why make that worse by allowing companies to sell products without essential ingredients?

But are LCPs necessary? The European Union's expert Scientific Committee said prior to the new Directive:

"Having reviewed the available literature the Committee sees the evidence insufficient to set an obligatory minimum level of LCPUFA." That is, there is insufficient evidence that LCPs should be added as an essential ingredient.

So the European Union is allowing companies to make claims about added LCPs even though the the evidence does not suggest there is any benefit from them.

At the meetings on the Food Code over the next few days the European Union is fighting for the agenda of the baby food industry in arguing that health claims should be permitted.

As I said yesterday, this work can be tedious, but words are important. Important in regulations and important for marketing.

Just how important health claims are for marketing is demonstrated if we look back in time to when a company called Martek came up with new ways of manufacturing LCPs, which it marketed as Formulaid. Today Martek supplies most of the big formula companies. Back then market analysts Hambrecht & Quist strongly recommended investors to buy shares in Martek Biosciences. They saw a goldmine.

This is what they said back in the 1990s about the additives Martek had come up with:

"The history of infant formula has shown that virtually all similar examples have led to wide-scale introduction of such additives into infant formula, even if there was no evidence that the additives were important. Infant formula is currently a commodity market with all products being almost identical and marketers competing intensely to differentiate their product. Even if Formulaid had no benefit we think that it would be widely incorporated into most formulas as a marketing tool and to allow companies to promote their formula as 'closest to human milk.'"

Friday, October 27, 2006

The Food Code - and the Queen

As you may have gathered from this blog, Baby Milk Action is in favour of regulations to hold corporations to account.

This does mean we have to spend a lot of time looking at laws and other standards. A wrong word here or there could have great significance. Changes have to be argued over and justified. Square brackets can take on a significance that is frightening.

One of the places where this happens is the Codex Alimentarius Commission. The Codex Alimentarius is the Food Code. It's development is carried out by the Commission set up by the World Health Organisation (WHO) and the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO).

Codex is important because its standards are used as a benchmark by countries around the world. So imagine a government wants to stop companies labelling complementary foods for use before 6 months of age. That's been the age the World Health Assembly has been recommending for introducing complementary foods since 1994. Now, another government may object, put up to it by its corporations that want to gain more sales by promoting at an earlier age. A case can be brought before the World Trade Organisation (WTO) if the countries are members. WTO will check Codex standards to see if the ban is justified. They don't check the World Health Assembly recommendations. So we have to go to Codex and argue their standards should be in line. This has been going on for years with the '6 months' being in square brackets for a long time, meaning that a decision was still to be taken. What a celebration there was when the square brackets were removed!

Arguments now are about infant formula composition and labels. We want labels to tell people that powdered formula is not sterile and clearer instructions on how to mix it up safely. The World Health Assembly has called for improved labelling because it has found that formula can be contaminated with bacteria during manufacture.

Codex concerns product quality as well, so we work with our partners in the International Baby Food Action Network (IBFAN) and other organisations for standards to improve composition and to limit toxins, such as pesticides. This work is to reduce the risks to infants who are fed with formula.

It can be tedious campainging on regulations. But it is important. The industry knows this too. It sends many people to Codex meetings, openly or covertly, trying to remove words that could impact on its sales, trying to put in others that open up loopholes.

If you want to see what it involves see the briefing papers just posted on our website for a meeting starting later this week. I won't bore you with the details here. No today at least.

Fortunately for me it is our Policy Director, Patti Rundall. who takes the lead on this. A few years ago she was given an award by the Queen for her trouble. An OBE for 'services to infant nutrition'.

You can see Patti receiving her OBE here. There we are as well outside Buckingham Palace with 'Boycott Nestlé' placards.

It's varied work at baby Milk Action.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

CORE ! Time for a new social contract with business

News just in is that the one of the campaign objective of the Corporate Responsibility Coalition (CORE) looks like it may be achieved. Baby Milk Action is a member of this network of campaigning organisations which is working for ways to hold corporations to account against international human rights and environmental standards.

That's the thing. Standards exist. Not just the marketing requirements for baby foods, but declarations on human rights, the rights of workers, the protection of the environment. The trouble is that it is governments that sign up to these agreements and if they do not enforce them on companies then they are not followed.

The International Code of Marketing of Breastmilk Substitutes specifically says to companies that they must ensure their activities at every level comply with the rules independently of what governments may have done. Companies don't respect this. Sometimes they argue they will follow national laws or voluntary agreements instead, and use their economic power to make those as weak as possible. Or they say they will follow the Code, but don't and can get away with it - if we let them.

What CORE is seeking are binding laws so if a UK company abuses human rights or the environment, anywhere in the world, they can be taken to court in the UK. We also want companies to have a legal obligation to report on their impact on communities and for directors to have a duty to consider communities and the environment, not just shareholders.

A few business leaders do see the point of having a level playing field so that the basic standards they wish to follow have to be followed by all. But most and certainly the business associations are opposed. So they have apparently reacted with shock and outrage that the government has added some of the provisions CORE is asking for to the Company Law Reform Bill passing through Parliament at the moment. If the law is adopted, some companies will have to report to shareholders on their environmental and social impacts and on employee and supplier issues. In addition, company directors will have a duty not only to maximise profit, but also to consider the impacts of their business on people and the environment.

You can read in the Financial Times how politicians have had the business lobbyists calling them up saying this is a betrayal. How dare the government require them to report on what they are doing and consider others! Take note, businesses are not being given a legal obligation to respect human rights and the environment. The police won't be knocking on their doors if their reports are not true or they decide to carry on exploiting people and the environment. So why the outrage? Because they fear this is a step towards binding laws. If they have to respect human rights and the environment it will increase costs and if companies in other countries don't have to follow the same standards then UK businesses will become uncompetitive.

Okay, some people reading this may say this is too cynical a view. Business leaders are human beings and they want the best for people. Not just for themselves and their shareholders, but their employees, their customers and the wider community. No doubt some do, but if they are competing with businesses who put profits first then there will always be the pressure to cut corners if there aren't laws in place.

But no, some people may say. Business leaders are not against behaving ethically, they are against more regulation. Red tape we call it in the UK. Forms to fill. Reports to write. There are already too many rules, business complains, and now they are being told to produce even more reports. Let us make the changes, but in our own way, they say. They say voluntary approaches will be more effective. See my 'Growing Fatter' posting for a response to that argument.

The voluntary approach is sometimes referred to as Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR). We have written in our newsletter about Nestlé and CSR and how it brings the concept into disrepute. Nestlé uses a few good examples and a lot of dishonest presentation of its activities to try to cover up the harm it is causing.

Now it seems that some of the people who have been backing CSR are having a rethink. In another article in the Financial Times experts from the International Institute for Environment and Development suggest that CSR is in a bad way and it is time for the Confederation of British Industry to drop its opposition to reporting and regulation. They argue that CSR is dead and a new form of CSR should emerge with the same spirit: "understanding business as part of society".

This is the 'corporate citizen' approach. A business should be a good neighbour. Should put something back into the community and so on. Then people will like business again and be more friendly to them, so the argument goes.

I think this gets things back to front. Yes business is part of society, because a business is a way of people organising themselves. A business only has legitimacy because society defines what a business is and how it must operate through the laws our elected representatives introduce. There is a social contract between society and business. Business can operate, but on the terms society sets. Changing the rules is long overdue. Rules that may have worked in the past are clearly not working now. So let's change them.

The business lobbyists will try to kill the new measures in the Company Law Reform Bill. They are well resourced and have the ear of politicians. But if you are in the UK and a voter or potential voter, then you too have influence. Visit the CORE website to see what action you can take.

Visit as well if you are outside the UK to see if you want to call for changes in your country. There are likely already groups there campaigning.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Baby cafés and breastfeeding in public

There was a news piece about breastfeeding on national UK radio today. It was about Baby Cafés and you can listen to it using realplayer by clicking this link to the BBC Radio 4 website.

Baby Cafés are drop-in centres are for pregnant and breastfeeding mums and their supporters. They are generally open once a week and set out with coffee tables, comfy sofas and play areas for accompanying toddlers. Pregnant or breastfeeding mums can drop in at any time during opening hours and partners, supporters and health professionals are also welcome. You can find information about the network on the Baby Café website, what they are, where to find them, how to set them up.

One of the attractions of a Baby Café, spoken about on the radio programme, is they present an atmosphere where breastfeeding is normal. The need for such places may seem difficult to believe if you live outside the UK, but in other cafés mothers who are breastfeeding can find people staring. They may even be asked to leave or to go somewhere out of sight to breastfeed. It's even happened to a mother in one of the Queen's palaces. Mothers have been moved on by the police.

Ah, you may say. How can this happen when breastfeeding is natural. Some people here respond by saying going to the toilet is natural, but you wouldn't want someone to do so in front of you.

In Scotland the Parliament has introduced legislation protecting a mother's right to feed her child in public. In the debate one Member of the Scottish Parliament said:"The woman put off a bus in Edinburgh, the mother in England who had dirty water thrown over her and the mother and baby subjected to the embarrassment of a public announcement in a Glasgow shopping mall requesting their relocation to a baby changing room, provide just a snapshot of some of the extreme attitudes which exist."

You can sign a petition for a law to protect a mother's right to feed her child in public in England and in Wales. I joined the groups Little Angels and Best Beginnings and David Kidney MP in presenting the England petition to the Prime Minister at 10 Downing Street back in May, national breastfeeding week. The Rt Hon. Tony Blair was not available to receive the petition so it was handed to a policeman inside.

As the delegation lined up for the traditional picture on the door step I asked Stella Onions from Little Angels if she wanted to breastfeed one of her children who had come with her. She readily agreed. What a great picture to illustrate the story of the petition. Unfortunately just as she was getting ready, the policeman outside told her to stop, saying it was more than his job was worth to allow a picture of breastfeeding in front on Number 10. Incredulous, Stella explained about the petition and the relevance of the picture, but it was no good. So the picture picked up by the newspapers and television was of the policeman telling a mother to stop breastfeeding. Afterwards the Metropolitan Police said it was because of obstruction of the doorway. Fine, except you can obstruct the doorway for the traditional photo. One of the more absurd articles in response to the story suggested Stella posed a security risk.

The breastfeeding rates in the UK in the UK are amongst the lowest in Europe. Regaining a breastfeeding culture requires action on many fronts. Baby Cafés are one part of this. Recognising a mothers right to feed her child and protecting this is another.

Not gawping when a mother is breastfeeding would also help. If that's you, please grow up.

Monday, October 23, 2006

The long haul

The long haul

A few days ago I wrote about Nestlé's growth in turnover. A sample of the things popping up over the past few days show how Nestlé could be doing so much better if it abided by the baby food marketing requirements, so bringing an end to the boycott.

Swansea Student Union renewed its support for the Nestlé boycott. This was prompted by someone noticing that Buxton Water in the union shop is a Nestlé product. So that will no longer be stocked. A business has emailed saying they have stopped their contract with Pow Wow water, a company taken over by Nestlé. When the engineer came to collect the cooler, he said there were 6 other addresses in the same street who had also cancelled their contracts. Someone has requested information for lobbying their council to support the boycott. And the usual round of journalists for articles on the campaign, the controversy over the Nestlé/L'Oreal takeover of Body Shop etc.

One particularly nice letter arrived today with a cheque for £281. Vanessa explains that her son and 12 other members of his church youth group held a 24-hour sponsored fast to raise money for three organisations. Baby Milk Action was selected after Oliver gave a powerpoint presentation to the group, which he repeated in church. As she says, 'no mean feat for a 16 year old boy to talk about breastfeeding to either a group of teenagers or the predominantly elderly congregation'. So the word is spread and the campaign grows.

But why hasn't Nestlé given up, people sometimes ask? And if Nestlé sales continue to grow, what does that tell us?

As I wrote in the first entry on this blog, Nestlé has given up in some important areas. Lives are being saved thanks to the campaign. But it is not yet over.

Nestlé continues to grow despite the campaign because it is an extremely powerful company. It spends more on one advertising campaign than Baby Milk Action operates on for a year. And it is as aggressive in competing with other companies as it is in competing with breastfeeding. It is a point of management principle that Nestlé will be in the top two companies in every business it enters, be it infant food, bottled water or pet food. It is now entering into the diet meals business with the takeover of Jenny Craig so expect it to eat up competitors or put them out of business. Expect consolidation as other companies struggle to survive. Nestlé has not become the world's largest food company by accident. It is through ruthlessly pursuing that goal.

Every now and then an organisation comes along and looks at Nestlé's continued aggressive marketing of baby foods and decides to have a go at solving the problem. Perhaps Nestlé will be a focus for a couple of years, before they move on to something else. Perhaps they see the boycott as 'confrontational' and believe that by 'engaging' with the company they can persuade it to change. It never ceases to amaze me how flattered people are if Nestlé agrees to meet, as if they have scored some great victory. We have been there before. I think of the governments bullied by Nestlé, the trade unionists locked out and tied up in endless court battles, the company's contempt for the European Parliament public hearing and Mr. Brabeck's past attacks on the Executive Director of UNICEF. And I feel a little bit sorry for those who really don't know what they are getting themselves into and a little bit annoyed at their failure to learn the lessons of the history of the campaign.

Nestlé understands two things. The first is money. That is why it does not abide by the baby food marketing requirements. It undermines breastfeeding to increase sales. The boycott makes Nestlé take concerns over its baby food marketing seriously because it hits its bottom line. Periodically it makes changes it can trumpet to the world to try to release the pressure.

The second is the law. For Nestlé the law is an inconvenience. Those who think they can change Nestlé's practices through sitting down with executives over a cup of Nescafé should first look at how it responds to legal actions, failing to turn up at court, trying to get laws changed and so on. But laws do work. When independently monitored and enforced they stop aggressive marketing. Breastfeeding rates start to recover.

What am I trying to say? Don't expect it to be easy to hold a company like Nestlé to account. Not just because campaigning organisations are poorly resourced. Certainly we could make more progress with additional resources, boycotters and media attention. But the problem is more fundamental: the nature of Nestlé and its thirst for continuous growth.

No. It is not easy a task. But somebody has to do it. And stick with it.

Settling for less than the minimum required to protect infants and their families is a failure and a betrayal of those who are asking for our help.

Friday, October 20, 2006

Could you work here?

For the past few days we have been coming to terms with the news that Alison, our long-serving Office Manager, is to leave Baby Milk Action. She has been with us for 8 years, through the ups and downs of working for a small organisation with precarious funding. Alison's dedication has been exemplary. She is the first voice most callers hear and many health workers in the UK will have met her on the stalls selling materials she has sourced, developed or designed, providing an important source of income for Baby Milk Action while also spreading the word. It is now time for a new challenge and we wish her well in the organisation she will be moving on to in the near future.

Now the hunt is on for a new Office Manager. Two years' ago Alison coordinated the move to our new office. New is not quite the right word as it is several hundred years old and a listed building. It may sound extravagant, but it was actually the cheapest office space we could find, and, believe me, Alison looked. We had to move as our old office finds itself in a city centre shopping centre development. It is now surrounded with hoardings.

We are on the two floors, above an antique shop, across the road from the Fitzwilliam Museum, an impressive Romanesque building containing art and artefacts. Moving could have been horrendous as our staircase is narrow and winding. But we found a way to have the boxes and boxes of documents and office equipment to be passed in through the rear window. Then we had to decorate, put down the carpet brought over from the old office and load up the shelves. The shelves were a challenge as they stand on the floor, but the floors here are not level. The engineer in me resurfaced and the shelves stand on planks adjusted to be level with bolts at the corners.

A few days ago I wrote about Nestlé hiring public relations firms to counter our campaign. In our world you decorate your own office at the weekend with the help of volunteers.

Now we are well settled into the office. But nothing remains the same and we are recruiting a new Officer Manager. Could you work here? Alison will be a tough act to follow, but the job is one in which people can grow and develop skills. It ranges from first point of contact with supporters and partners around the world, to managing the budget. From sorting out the audit and arranging the Annual General Meeting of members, to supervising volunteers in mailing out information to meet the many requests we receive. It is a fun, friendly place to work, though sometimes stressful when the money is tight or we have to respond to an emergency or news story.

Interested? The job description and application form will be available on the Baby Milk Action website shortly.

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Growing fatter

Today Nestlé has announced its good news. It financial figures for the past 9 months show it is on target to grow by 6.1% this year. Chief Executive, Peter Brabeck-Letmathé, is well pleased. He has promised investors growth of 5 or 6% per year. 'Organic growth' they call it, though it has nothing to do with organic food, just the opposite. Organic growth means increasing the money it takes by selling more stuff, not through buying up other companies. Buying up other companies was the main strategy a few years ago. Now the focus is rationalising the business, increasing efficiency, getting rid of the dead wood and marketing, marketing, marketing.

One of the 'main strategic pillars' in Nestlé's strategy for continual expansion is its infant food business. In the latest figures the company reports that Nestlé Nutrition grew by a whopping 8% in the last 9 months - if China is excluded. That is an amazing achievement, considering that countries such as Brazil and India now have strong laws stopping companies from using the promotional methods banned by the World Health Assembly. The type of methods Nestlé uses where it can get away with it.

The press release explains "Nestlé Nutrition's organic growth was impacted by infant formula sales in Greater China which are continuing to recover." In China infant formula sales were hit after Nestlé's Neslac milk (a milk for older babies) was found to have too high levels of iodine. Nestlé at first refused to abide by the order to remove the milk from sale, prompting a consumer boycott. Mr. Brabeck launched a campaign last year putting health workers into retail outlets to assure people about the quality of Neslac. While they were careful not to promote infant formula openly, due to China's regulations implementing the World Health Assembly marketing requirements, they targeted pregnant women and breastfeeding mothers with nutritional supplements. This undermines breastfeeding by implying mothers need to buy the expensive products to breastfeed successfully. It appears that Mr. Brabeck's strategy is working - but at what cost to infant health?

Something else in the press release struck me. Mr. Brabeck says: "We have also continued to make progress in our transformation into a nutrition, health and wellness company through our active business portfolio management and the announced changes in our top management."

Why is the world's largest food company attempting to transform into a nutrition, health and wellness company, whatever that is supposed to mean? Well, we have a clue from the investment bank UBS Warburg which reported in 2002 that an estimated 46% of Nestlé's income comes from 'less healthy' foods and would be at risk if regulations restricting promotion or marketing of such foods was introduced. Its study suggested that 18% of a company's value could be lost by a fall of just 3% in sales. See Fat is a Financial Issue in The Guardian.

Regulations requiring Nestlé and other companies to stop promoting unhealthy foods to children or to remove cheap, but unhealthy ingredients, such as transfats, could throw a serious spanner into Mr. Brabeck's growth plans if they are introduced. So Nestlé and other companies are trying to persuade politicians not to legislate, claiming they will change their practices voluntarily.

Some countries are introducing laws, however. In Denmark it is illegal to sell foods containing more than a small amount of transfats (no more than 2% of fats and oil can be transfatty acids). There are even the powers to imprison people for up to two years if they break the law. Yet the European Commission has been persuaded to go the route of voluntary codes. It has set up a Platform for Action, where companies give commitments to make changes. The commitments are not independently monitored, because the companies object to this.

A typical commitment is from the European Snacks Association, of which Nestlé is a member. This has given an undertaking to improve product labeling and: "Furthermore they commit to further develop products reduced in fat, saturated fat or salt and to make these products more available."

So while Denmark's regulatory approach has forced companies to cut levels of some unhealthy ingredients in their products, the voluntary approach says it is for the purchaser's responsibility to watch out.

Nestlé is very happy to offer 'healthy' options, because they can market them as superior and sell them at a higher price. They also divert attention from the unhealthy junk foods that make up most of its product range and which it will continue to promote, particularly to children.

It is not only Nestlé's that will continue to grow fatter.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

The hidden persuaders

My old friends Weber Shandwick are on the front page of The Guardian newspaper today.

You may not have heard of Weber Shandwick. They are hardly a household name, but much of the news we read and watch originates from them and companies like them. Weber Shandwick is a public relations (PR) firm. One of its specialities is corporate communications and, in particular, working with companies to "protect their reputations, promote their activities and secure advantage in the market place". It was on the front page of the newspaper as a newly launched campaign for access to cancer drugs has come under scrutiny as it is funded by the company that makes the drugs. The campaign operates from Weber Shandwick's offices. According to The Guardian: "MEPs and the head of the European Cancer Patients Coalition have already withdrawn from Cancer United's executive board, amid concerns over the funding and lack of transparency. Roche last night strongly denied the campaign was in effect a marketing exercise."

I first came across the PR company in November 2000 at the European Parliament Public Hearing into Nestlé baby food marketing. Nestlé had refused to attend the Hearing after objecting to UNICEF and the International Baby Food Action Network (IBFAN) being invited as witnesses. Publicly it claimed no member of staff was available. This was despite being informed months in advance of the hearing and saying it would attend when asked at the shareholder annual general meeting a few months before.

So no Nestlé. But there was someone from a firm Nestlé had contracted to write a report saying Nestlé was doing nothing wrong. Unfortunately this person could not respond to MEPs' questions about Nestlé's policies. Also present was someone from Shandwick (as it then was), who was seen to lobby MEPs and take notes for Nestlé's later campaign against the bad publicity.

I now see them when Baby Milk Action debates with Nestlé, taping the events and taking notes. No doubt we would be sued for libelling the company if we said anything that could not be substantiated. I presume Weber Shandwick also advises Nestlé on what to say.

Some public relations companies appear to go further in trying to protect their paymasters' reputations. We warn people who subscribe to the boycott discussion group that they do not know who is reading their messages or posting to the group. We link to an article by George Monbiot called The Fake Persuaders. He found that some of the emails in the on-line debate about genetically modified food appeared to originate from a public relations firm called Bivings. Apparently on the firms website it states: "Sometimes we win awards. Sometimes only the client knows the precise role we played."

Corporations have massive resources to invest in public relations. We have very few resources, but we do have a massive network of people who spread the word and help the campaign. Not for money, but because they care about truth and justice.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Searching for action

None of my four main tasks at the moment are ready for public consumption so I thought I'd say a quick word about searching for information on the baby milk campaign.

Type 'Nestlé boycott' or 'boycott Nestlé' into most search engines and not only is Baby Milk Action likely to be top of the list, but there is page after page of other sites with information about the boycott. I've just tried it now, and it reminds me of stories from the past few years we worked to put into circulation. Such as when Pulp, Dodgy and Ian Brown found themselves named in the British Medical Journal after supporting the Nestlé boycott. The flip side of this was breastfeeding and the World Health Assembly marketing requirements for baby foods received space in NME (the New Musical Express).

Even this blog has made it up on to the fourth page of the Google search. A lot has been written about how to achieve high placing in search engines, so I won't try to repeat it. The best advice for webmasters, bloggers and campaigners I think is to keep the site active with frequent and hopefully interesting postings. People then visit and most search engines seem to consider the amount of traffic to a site in their relevance calculations.

On Google if you search for Nestlé we are currently the third site on the list. After nestle.co.uk and nestle.com Even if people don't visit our site they see the text by the link: "Nestlç aggressively promotes its baby milks around the world, breaking a World Health Organisation code of marketing. It is subject to a consumer boycott in ..."

I hope this doesn't prompt Nestlé to try to nobble the listing. One little trick they have tried is with their anti-boycott site. In case you haven't come across it, the address is www.babymilk.nestle.com

The choice of address is no accident, I believe. Visit it once then when you start to type the Baby Milk Action website address www.babymilkaction.org on the address line, the first letters will prompt the browser to offer the anti-boycott website as a prompt. Coincidence? Perhaps. Or perhaps they paid one of their consultancy firms a small fortune to come up with that strategy.

If you do happen along to the anti-boycott site, you will probably notice that it is definitely not updated frequently with interesting information. When it was launched Nestlé had the intention of producing regular 'Code Action' reports showing its initiatives in implementing the International Code of Marketing of Breastmilk Substitutes and subsequent, relevant Resolutions of the World Health Assembly.

They are still there, archived on the site.

Number 1: October 1999

Number 2: November 1999

Number 3: January 2000

Number 4: April 2000
(They are starting to come a little more slowly now)

Number 5: August 2000
(Now more than a year to wait..)

Number 6: October 2001
(And if you can believe it, an even longer wait..)

Number 7: June 2003 .. the newest edition on the site.

Which may prompt you to think that 'Code Action' is not a fitting name for the report.

More accurate is that Nestlé..s continues to breaking the Code and Resolutions, which is not action it wishes to draw attention to. And producing regular reports meant it couldn't just keep quite when controversy blew up. It had to respond through the pages of its publication, which was being sent out around the world. It became an embarrassment. One I may just return to in the future. The result was the reports have dried up and possibly died.

Though you can never be too sure.

Any year now Nestlé may have some 'Code Action' it wants people to know about.

Monday, October 16, 2006

Exhibition space

Into the office on Monday and Alison, our Office Manager, has already unloaded the boxes she took to a mother support group annual conference. Alison not only manages our stock of publications and other merchandise, she develops and produces much of it.

She attends the main mother support group conferences and other relevant ones, such as UNICEF's Baby Friendly Initiative and the Baby Café Conference. These bring in a significant amount of income, provide information to health workers and make sure Baby Milk Action is seen. Participants flock to the stall, looking for something new. Alison has produced new posters and postcards (including a humorous set), t-shirts and our 2007 breastfeeding calendar, which sells around the world and is a useful alternative to company produced ones. At the risk of making this sound like an advertisement, you can also purchase through our on-line Virtual Shop.

We usually have to pay to have a stall. Exhibitors can be a big source of income for conference organisers to help cover costs. We encourage organisations to put in place funding policies and to avoid companies that violate the World Health Assembly baby food marketing requirements.

Some of the health professional association conferences do allow the baby food companies in. They are not there to provide scientific and factual information on their products, but over health workers manicures and gift vouchers for their contact details. We have attended with a stall in the past to try to ensure health workers also hear about the marketing requirements, but these days generally cannot justify paying the high exhibitors costs.

On the other hand, we generally do not attend as participants or speakers where there is baby food company sponsorship, unless it is to denounce it. Caught out a few months ago, I turned down the small speaker's fee I had been offered and complained to the organisers when I found companies violating the marketing requirements in the exhibition hall after I had spoken. The organisers thought they had been careful, but a breast pump company was pushing feeding bottles and a baby food company had leaflets promoting complementary feeding before 6 months of age.

The International Baby Food Action Network (IBFAN) has a straightforward policy. No funding from companies with an interest in infant feeding - whatever the products.

Baby Milk Action is stricter still - no commercial funding.

We rely on those t-shrits and poster sales. Did I mention they can also be found in the on-line Virtual Shop?

Friday, October 13, 2006

Why the hat?

I was off on Friday. So just a quick explanation as to the hat. It is from Sao Lourenco, Minas Gerais, Brazil.

A few years ago I was contacted by people in the town campaigning against Nestlé's water bottling plant, which was destroying the water park in the spa town.

They mounted a heroic campaign to stop the company and finally succeeded in March this year, through a combination of legal action and shaming the company overseas. I am pleased to have been able to play a part in bringing it to people's attention in the UK, with various events and work with journalists and UK development organisations.

It is the same old story of Nestlé flouting regulations, pressuring the media not to report what is going on, using sponsorship to buy friends, keeping cases tied up in the courts and attacking the character of those who raise complaints. It did not tell the truth about its activities and paid others to produce reports saying it was doing wrong. And when it finally gives up - in this case after ten years - claiming this shows how it is ethical and responsible and listens to people in the communities where it operates.

We can't give much time to issues other than infant feeding, but can share our experience in holding corporations to account. It is also useful to undersand Nestlé's management culture and PR strategies. Though if you Google 'Nestle Sao Lourenco' you will see Nestlé has done its image more harm than good with the way it handled this issue.

Thursday, October 12, 2006

What about babies who cannot be breastfed?

One of the emails today was from a campaign supporter in Australia who raised the Nestlé boycott at a play group where Nestlé's flavoured straws were being promoted. The playgroup leader became cross with her, arguing that starving babies need formula.

This is, of course, a misunderstanding of what the campaign is all about. We campaign so that baby food companies abide by the marketing standards adopted by the World Health Assembly. The International Code of Marketing of Breastmilk Substitutes does not ban the sale of breastmilk substitutes. It is there to protect all mothers, whether they breastfeed or bottle feed. The Code bans the promotion of breastmilk substitutes, that is advertising, free samples, targeting mothers and so on. Companies are limited to providing scientific and factual information to health workers. It is for health workers to advise parents, not companies that make money out of mothers not breastfeeding.

For orphans breastmilk substitutes are clearly necessary - though in some cultures other mothers may breastfeed the child or donor milk is an option. In emergency situations where infants are sometimes separated from their mothers, they need to be fed and need a breastmilk substitute. There is a misconception that in emergencies, such as droughts and famines, mothers cannot breastfeed. However, often the healthiest people in a refuge camp are the breastfed infants, because they receive the nutrition they need and are protected from infections when hygience is poor. Members of the International Baby Food Action Network (IBFAN) have first-hand experience of working in emergency situations, ensuring orphaned or separated infants are cared for. Mothers have been helped with breastfeeding or even re-lactating if their milk production has been interrupted through separation or stress. Mothers who have to or wish to bottle feed have been trained to do so safely - something that does not happen when well-meaning people send donations of formula with labels in the wrong language. It is better to buy it locally. You can find out more about infant feeding in emergency situations on the IBFAN website.

In the past we would get an email through our website every now and then from a mother telling of her problems with breastfeeding and saying we should think about people like her. Our argument is not with mothers it is with companies that break the rules. To try to explain this better we put a page on our website explaining how our work is to help mothers who bottle feed as well as those who breastfeed. For example, we campaign to improve the composition of formulas and for clearer labelling and instructions. We have campaigned about the high price charged for formula - it is one of the most profitable products on the supermarket shelves and companies could take a smaller cut for the benefit of poorer mothers - a permanent price reduction, not one for promotional pruposes. In Italy it was found that companies were secretly agreeing to keep the price high and this was exposed by our partners there.

At the same time we cannot shy away from telling the truth about how baby food companies push their products and the disadvantages to health of artificial milks and the impact in terms of needless suffering and deaths around the world. Mothers should have the right to choose how to feed their infants, but they also have the right for it to be an informed choice.

A strategy of the baby food companies to continue with business as usual is to spread misinformation about their products. And about campaigners. For example, Nestlé's Senior Policy Advisor spoke to a committee of the UK Methodist Church in November 2004. The minutes are public. They record: "she argued that if you banned infant formula, as she claimed Baby Milk Action seemed to wish, you would be condemning babies to much inferior breast milk substitutes."

Which brings us back to the comment made by the play group leader in Australia.

It is a lesson for all campaigners. Beware of what companies say behind your back. If they cannot give good responses to your reasonable arguments, they may well invent unreasonable ones to knock down.

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Back to college

Students are back at university at the UK, so the requests have been coming in for resources and other support for boycott campaigns.

Some student unions will have their support for the Nestlé boycott up for review or renewal. We list student unions we know have introduced boycott motions on our website, but we are not always informed if boycotts are introduced or they lapse, so if you are at college please let us know if any updates are needed.

The National Union of Students Services did a survey of student unions fairly recently and according to their figures 38% of unions have boycotts in place. One that is up for review tomorrow, I believe, is at Swansea University. While boycott supporters will be pointing to on-going Nestlé malpractice those opposed usually fall back on the 'right to eat Kit Kat' argument. It is all very well for individual students to boycott Nestlé for its corporate crimes, they say, but those who do not support the boycott should be able to buy Nestlé products.

I have two responses to this. You may be able to come up with better ones, so please feel free to leave them in a comment. Firstly, students are more powerful when they act collectively, which is why the student union exists and have democratic systems to set policy. Nestlé hates it when a union has a boycott in place because of lost sales, because it makes people aware of Nestlé's on-going malpractice, because it makes it harder for it to recruit the graduates it is seeking. The introduction or renewal of a boycott can gain wider coverage in local media and we publicise it to our partners around the world on our website and in our newsletter. It all adds to the pressure on Nestlé to change and helps to save infant lives. We have even seen progress from student action, such as Nestlé dropping its opposition to debating with us. And last year, in the build up to a boycott referendum at the University of East Anglia, Nestlé agreed to consider taking part in the independent expert tribunal we are trying to get off the ground - though it later backtracked (you can listen to what Nestlé now denies it said on our website).

My second response to the 'freedom of choice' argument is that it is false. If there is no boycott in place it does not mean students are free to buy whatever they want. They are only free to buy what the student union outlets decide to stock. If they stock Nestlé products and not ALL the alternatives then there is not true freedom of choice. If a student's favourite brand of coffee or chocolate is not stocked they have to go elsewhere. A decision is being made somewhere because the shelves are not big enough for products from every company. So why not make ethical reasons part of the criteria for selection and boycott Nestlé?

And as Steve Coogan says 'keep on boycotting until they change their policy'.

This is a clip from 2001 when Steve raised the boycott at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival. Nestlé was sponsoring the Perrier Award for comedy. Baby Milk Action held demonstrations to raise Nestlé's aggressive marketing of baby foods and in 2006 Nestlé pulled out and the Perrier Award is no more (there is a different award with a new sponsor).

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Evidence on show

I had meetings in London today and dashing into the office to print off some documents, I picked up a copy of the British Journal of Midwifery that had just arrived. It was the September issue and I turned to the letter pages to see if my letter had been included.

This was a response to an article that shocked many midwives. The article went under the title: "The Nestle issue from an evidence based midwifery perspective." There was a lot wrong with the article, perhaps unsurprising as the lead author is a midwife who is campaigning to bring Nestle-sponsored infant feeding materials into the National Health Service and their research consisted of going on an all-expenses-paid trip to Nestle HQ. I am sure this is part of the company's strategy to break into the UK formula market - something the company has tried unsuccessfully twice before.

We have posted a detailed response to the article on our website, so here I will just mention one of the dodgy statements. The authors mentioned a booklet called the Baby Killer which was very important in the history of the campaign for bringing Nestle baby food marketing practices to public attention and leading to the first boycott campaign. The booklet was translated into German and published in Nestle's home country of Switzerland. The authors said: "Nestlé sued and won but it damaged their public profile." From which you might think the booklet was not telling the truth about what the company was doing.

We know that is misleading, but to demonstrate the fact, I dug documents from the time of the trial out of the files. These and many others have now been scanned and added to the site. Doing this work inspired the development of a theatre piece which I performed with some actor friends at the World Organisation of Music and Dance (WOMAD) Festival in Reading at the end of July. The piece sets the scene of the trial, which reached its climax 30 years ago. We involved the audience with games such as naming Nestle products to boycott and taking the 'Nestle challenge' - mixing up a bottle of formula in the conditions faced by many mothers in poor countries ("here's a bucket - the river is over there").

And then we come to the Judge's ruling. But before he could rule, in a dramatic move Nestle withdrew three charges against the booklet, meaning campaigners could continue to claim the practices of Nestle and other companies were "unethical and immoral" and "that by its selling practices Nestlé was responsible for the death of or the permanent mental and physical injury to thousands of infants."

Executives had said they would resign if they lost on those points and it was clear after the evidence presented to the court that they were going to lose. Although he could not rule on the charges because Nestle had withdrawn them the Judge said: "the need ensues for the Nestlé company fundamentally to rethink its advertising practices in developing countries as concerns bottle feeding, for its advertising practice up to now can transform a life-saving product into one that is dangerous and life-destroying." On stage I tried to deliver this in my most sonorous Judge's voice for maximum impact. Imagine the real thing. This and the evidence presented is what damaged the company's profile.

The one remaining charge was against the title. This had been changed so the German meant 'Nestle kills babies.' The Judge decided this was too serious an allegation as it implied Nestle was guilty of setting out to murder babies. But the people from the group that had published the booklet were fined just a small amount.

The reference used by the authors of the article in the British Journal of Midwifery did give some of this detail, but they did not include it. Instead they just said: "Nestlé sued and won but it damaged their public profile."

Which just goes to show it is wise to look a little closer if people are claiming the campaign against Nestle is not based on solid evidence.

You can read our presentation of what really happened. You can read the original documents and other references to make up your own mind.

Or you can try to catch the Baby Milk Action theatre company in action. We are taking bookings.

Or if you want to put on a play yourself, contact me to discuss how we can help.

Monday, October 09, 2006

...but sometimes journalists get it wrong

As I said last time, we like journalists. They give the baby food issue coverage in a variety of ways.

But sometimes things can go a little awry. An example came up last Friday, which prompted me to write these two pieces. It began with an article in a Canadian news magazine which I forwarded to the Nestlé boycott yahoo discussion group. It explained how Nestlé was found giving away "free Baby Einstein and Disney DVDs, free rice-cereal samples, free infant formula samples, and a send-away card for a free diaper bag, a baby-magazine subscription, and more formula" at a baby care exhibition in Canada. This was contrasted with the difficulty the breastfeeding support groups, without any freebies on offer, had in enticing mothers to come to their meetings. Our Canadian partner, INFACT Canada, was mentioned in the article, though the name of the Director was given incorrectly. And there was a strange comment in the article, apparently coming from an official report, saying that a third of mothers could not breastfeed for health reasons. Knowing that virtually all mothers breastfeed in countries where there is support for breastfeeding and company promotion has been stopped I went looking for the original report (we are quite pernickety about such things). This showed there was a misunderstanding of the findings. Some mothers reported lack of milk and obviously experienced genuine difficulties, but not because there was a medical problem making breastfeeding impossible. The report concluded: "The relatively low percentage of Canadian mothers whose breastfeeding practices matched the current recommendations is a challenge for public health. The sharp drop in breastfeeding within a few weeks of leaving hospital suggests a lack of reinforcement in the family or community. A number of studies have called on health care professionals to provide consistent, clear information about breastfeeding and support throughout pregnancy, childbirth and the postpartum period." Without support mothers with difficulties find it hard to overcome them and are preyed on by the baby food companies with their 'carelines', advice websites and free gifts. Clearly it is not only some mothers who believe they cannot produce milk - there are journalists too. Perhaps because of their own bad experience or that of a friend or neighbour.

My worst memory of a journalist getting the wrong end of the stick came when I briefed the health correspondent of a national daily newspaper on the advice on infant feeding for mothers who might be infected with HIV. I referred to the recommendations the World Health Assembly adopted after much research and debate. This sets the policy of the World Health Organisation (WHO). The recommendation is: "when replacement feeding is acceptable, feasible, affordable, sustainable and safe, avoidance of all breastfeeding by HIV-positive women is recommended; otherwise, exclusive breastfeeding is recommended during the first months of life; and that those who choose other options should be encouraged to use them free from commercial influences." I won't go into all the reasons for this advice here (see below), but I explained them to the journalist. The article he wrote was along the lines of Baby Milk Action has this strange proposal, but WHO is unconvinced and experts argue 'exclusive breastfeeding is impractical in Africa, where few women produce enough breast milk to sustain a baby.'

The newspaper later printed letters from experts pointing out the errors in the article. But Baby Milk Action's telephone calls were not answered and our letter explaining that we had set out WHO policy, not invented our own proposals as the article suggested, was not published.

As you can see, it still rankles when I think of it. But the point is to learn from experience. I very quickly added a page on HIV to the Baby Milk Action website with quotes from the relevant World Health Assembly documents and linked to them. Now I can refer journalists there. In fact, the site is a treasure trove full of such gems. See the Your Questions Answered section for some of the key ones.

Another top tip is if you are going to be quoted, ask the journalist to wait for this to be sent in writing if there is time. When it is on the radio, however, that's another story...

Friday, October 06, 2006

Journalists are our friends....

We like journalists. They bring the baby milk issue and the Nestlé boycott to a wide audience.

All we need is a suitable peg, because the only news is new news. Old news is not news. It's history.

With a long-running campaign 'Nestlé boycott still on' is not going to be a prominent story - unless there is a fresh angle.

This can be monitoring evidence, such as when the International Baby Food Action Network (IBFAN) launches the Breaking the Rules reports showing what baby food companies are doing around the world. But more often our publicity comes with links to stories about breastfeeding or the antics of Nestlé.

So we were front-page news when Dame Anita Roddick sold Body Shop to L'Oreal earlier this year. The first announcements of the deal made no mention of the link between L'Oreal and Nestlé, though Nestlé owns 28% of the company. Our media work meant it was routinely mentioned in later reports. 'Anita sells out' was the headline on the cover of The Independent newspaper and we appeared in many other publications and gave radio interviews (no TV on this ocassion - though something was scheduled and fell through).

We used to have a press cuttings service, but cancelled it with our budget squeeze. So we miss a lot of the coverage we generate. The internet does help as most search engines have an option for checking news sources. But we are often taken by surprise to see where our news stories crop up.

I was travelling back from London to Cambridge on the train shortly after we had issued a statement on a response we had received from Dame Anita (press release 10 May 2006). I picked up an Evening Standard left on the train and flicking through saw a full page article on the ethical dilemmas thrown up by the Nestlé link, including a picture of a boycott leaflet downloaded from our website. A few weeks later reading through Ethical Consumer magazine there was a picture from leafleting boycott supporters had done outside Bournemouth Body Shop (well done folks), again taken from our website.

Top tips. Put high resolutions on your website and quotes in your press releases. You make life easier for journalists, who are busy people working to deadlines. They can then write an article without necessarily having to speak with you. Which is great for reducing your workload - but means you don't always see the articles.

Thursday, October 05, 2006

Springing a leak

Yesterday I wrote about a leaked document that showed how the US Chamber of Commerce pressured the President of the Philippines to intervene in a court case to the benefit of the baby food industry.

Leaked documents have to be handled with great care. Questions to ask include: Are they genuine? Why have they been given to you? Will disclosing the facts in the documents put anyone at risk?

It is not always relevant to go public with a leaked document. It may simply re-enforce information from elsewhere. For example, it may be clear from monitoring company practices that it has introduced a new marketing strategy. A leaked memo to staff will confirm this has come from head office.

But sometimes leaked documents can have a dramatic effect. I recall a debate with Nestlé's Senior Policy Advisor at a UK university a few years ago. The Advisor had joined the anti-boycott team in Croydon from Sri Lanka so I raised one of the cases from Sri Lanka: Nestlé had lobbied the government to stop it strengthening the Sri Lankan baby food marketing requirements. Shamefully it was opposing labelling products in three languages, despite labelling products in three languages in its home country of Switzerland.

The Nestlé Executive suggested this was untrue and any comment it had made had been as part of a consultation. It was a partner in the process, Nestlé claimed. It was a classic example of the 'mid-point bias' strategy I wrote about a couple of days ago. With two conflicting presentations of what had happened, Nestlé wanted to be believed, or the audience to at least conclude that the truth must be somewhere between the two.

Fortunately I had with me a copy of a leaked letter Nestlé had written and so put it up on the overhead projector. People could read it for themselves. Nestlé had written to an official with a request to 'use your good offices to invite us for a meeting' and that amongst its key points of concern was the requirement that the 'label be printed in three [underlined] languages'. After a long list of concerns about the regulations Nestlé insisted: 'the importers and ourselves should be invited to discuss the Code in depth, prior to finalisation of the said Code.' And just in case the official hadn't taken the point: 'We earnestly solicit your kind co-operation in convening a meeting, as requested, at your earliest convenience.'

Faced with the evidence, the Nestlé Executive could have thrown up her hands and admitted Nestlé wasn't responding to a consultation and wasn't a partner in the revision, but had pressed for a meeting to try to undermine implementation of the World Health Assembly measures. While admitting our claims were correct, she could have insisted it was the company's right to insist on a meeting. Instead, with a look of shock, she said the letter was supposed to be confidential, implying I was very naughty for having a copy of it.

Some leaked documents we can publicise and even put up on our website. But we have to be very careful about sources. Nestlé whistle blower, Syed Aamir Raza, is unusual in that he went public with internal company documents exposing practices such as the bribing of doctors in Pakistan. He said he was threatened by company executives and still today, nearly 7 years later, he has not been able to return to his country and has not seen his wife and two children in all that time. Nestlé could have thrown up its hands and admitted what the documents prove, but refuses to do so. Aamir's terrible situation is no doubt useful as a warning to other employees to others who might wish to blow the whistle.

Leaked documents are very useful. But also very dangerous. Handle with care.

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Pressure in the Philippines

One of the issues I've been looking at in recent days is now public with a press release I've posted on the International Baby Food Action Network (IBFAN) website.

The Philippines updated rules and regulations for its law on the marketing of infant foods. The law, known as the 'Milk Code' had been introduced in 1986. The update to the rules and regulations was necessary as practices had changed. The Philippines had supported new Resolutions at the World Health Assembly and the updated rules and regulations produced by the Department of Health also responded to these.

So a very sensible and necessary step, one would think.

Companies often claim they cannot follow the World Health Assembly marketing requirements unless they are introduced in national measures, so you might expect they applauded this development. Actually, no. Leading baby food companies came together with pharmaceutical companies to challenge the new rules and regulations in court. The companies included US companies Abbott Ross, Mead Johnson and Wyeth. Gerber, which used to be US and is now owned by Switzerland-based Novartis, was also involved.

The industry was trying to stop the rules and regulations coming into force. In July the court refused to do so.

Then within a month the court changed its mind. A restraining order was issued. The companies could continue their promotion until the court case was heard. In other countries such tactics have delayed decisions for years.

What happened to change the court's decision?

Part of the answer seems to be pressure from the US. In a leaked letter dated 11 August, the President of the US Chamber of Commerce, Mr Thomas Donohue, warned President Arroyo of "the risk to the reputation of the Philippines as a stable and viable destination for investment" if she did not "re-examine this regulatory decision".

In other words the US Chamber of Commerce (slogan 'fighting for your business') had put pressure on the government in the Philipinnes to interfere in the court decision. The threat was the country would lose investment unless it did so.

This is an attack on the independence on the judiciary.

This is not an isolated incidence. Gerber was involved in an earlier case where Guatemala was threatened by the US Government that it would lose its 'favoured nation' trading status if it did not allow Gerber to put baby images on its products.

Our partners in the Philippines are calling for help. IBFAN took the case to a meeting an international meeting in Sweden - as reported on the website - to gain signatures for a letter condemning the action by the US Chamber of Commerce. The letter calls for the judiciary to make its decisions independently.

We've exposed other cases in our Campaign for Ethical Marketing. Keep an eye on it. We'll tell you what you can do to support people in the Philippines shortly.

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Mid-point bias

A case from the Campaign for Ethical Marketing action sheet shows how Nestlé tries to persuade people it is doing nothing wrong.

On our June 2003 action sheet we exposed how Nestlé was distributing leaflets in Botswana claiming with its Perlargon infant formula 'diarrhoea and its side-effects are counteracted'.

This message is very dangerous. Infants fed on the formula are more likely to suffer from diarrhoea - and become dehydrated and die as a result - than breastfed infants.

At the same time Nestlé was distributing leaflets claiming 'Growing is thirsty work' to promote its Lactogen infant formula.

These leaflets were found in clinics. Though Nestlé claims they are information for health workers, it is a common strategy for it to distribute such leaflets in large quantities so they are passed on to mothers.

At the same time, information for health workers must be limited to scientific and factual information, according to the World Health Assembly International Code of Marketing of Breastmilk Substitutes. The leaflets in Botswana, as with many others, were unscientific. They were promotional materials which gave an untrue impression of the need for formula and its properties.

In its reply Nestlé effectively admitted this stating it was: '...preparing new materials for health professionals in Southern Africa with increased focus on the factual and scientific matters in these materials.' It claimed the leaflets being distributed in Botswana had already been discontinued (click here for Nestlé's full response).

So this was one of those cases where the promotion was so outrageous and such a clear breach of the marketing requirements Nestlé had to agree to change them. It did not agree to withdraw the existing leaflets. Nor did it apologise for violating the marketing requirements or explain why it had produced them in the first place. This shows Nestlé systems and instructions for producing materials are at fault - they churn out violations, which are only stopped by legislation or public pressure.

Two years later this issue came up again when we presented information to the Joint Advisory Committee on the Ethics in Investment (JACEI) of the Methodist Church. The Botswana leaflets were one of the examples discussed when Baby Milk Action addressed the committee. We had 30 minutes to speak and then 30 minutes of questions.

Then it was Nestlé's turn. Nestlé was asked about the Botswana leaflets and amazingly said it had not produced the leaflets. It claimed it: 'has never marketed Perlargon on the basis that it combats diarrhoea. Some governments have publicised the fact that Pelargon's infant formula is better than some other infant feeds.' When we saw this in the written record, we responded with a copy of the leaflet, showing it had been produced by Nestlé. (See it here).

So why is Nestlé prepared to say things that are clearly untrue?

I call its strategy 'mid-point bias'.

When outsiders look at information from Baby Milk Action and Nestlé they have to decide what to believe. The simplest and most accurate approach is to believe everything Baby Milk Action says because we stick strictly to the truth. This is through principle, but also because Nestlé could sue us for defamation if we said something about the company that is not true. Quite simply they could close us down if we could not stand up in court and prove what we say about their practices.

Nestlé on the other hand can say whatever it likes about its own activities, true or not. It is not possible to take it to court if it does not tell the truth about itself (though we did win a case before the Advertising Standards Authority, because advertisements do have to be truthful).

Someone new to the issue without the time to investigate in depth is likely to look at the two sets of information and think the truth lies somewhere on the line between the two positions. The longer Nestlé can make that line the further the mid-point moves away from the truth. In its presentations Nestlé can sound very reasonable and people can be taken in (there is another phenomena I call wilful self-deception which I'll talk about another time). Baby Milk Action has a harder task, because we can only work with the evidence - we cannot stretch the line in the other direction. We stick to the facts.

Of course, when people do take the time to look a bit more closely then the line breaks. Instead of looking to the mid-point, they see from the evidence that Nestlé was violating the marketing requirements and understand the lengths it goes to in trying to cover this up.

This is why we are calling for an in-depth, independent, expert tribunal that can look at the evidence taking as long as necessary. Nestlé has refused to even discuss the terms and conditions for this. Why? Because its mid-point bias strategy would fall apart.

Monday, October 02, 2006

Writing letters and influencing people

Our Campaign for Ethical Marketing action sheet has achieved some significant victories since it began in 1997. We give information on specific cases of aggressive marketing of baby foods and ask supporters to send a letter to the Chief Executive of the company responsible. There is a suggested letter to make it straightforward, address and fax number. The on-line version has an email address or links to the company website comment form - though we find companies keep moving these around to try to shake us off. The suggested letter basically says: "We know what you are doing and we want you to stop."

I was inspired to start the campaign after taking part in a training course in Kazakhstan run by the International Code Documentation Centre. I was trained alongside lawyers and officials from the Ministry of Health from countries of the former Soviet Union. Companies had gone into the region following the fall of communism and the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) and the World Health Organisation (WHO) wanted to provide training on the marketing requirements for baby foods.

On the course I spoke with other participants about what was happening in their countries. They became increasingly concerned as they learned the marketing practices they were seeing were prohibited by United Nations standards, but the companies continued regardless. While this motivated them to go back and work on bringing in laws, they were also looking for ways to stop what was going on right then.

A case that particularly concerned me was Nestlé's marketing in Armenia. The paediatrician on the course explained Nestlé had been advertising on television, on its distribution vans and on trams in the capital Yerevan. Although the boycott put pressure on Nestlé to change its practices, I realised we needed something more specific for urgent cases such as this. Inspired by Amnesty International's letter writing campaigns for political prisoners, I began the Campaign for Ethical Marketing action sheet. Supporters were invited to sign up to receive it and write letters to the Chief Executive of the company responsible.

After photographic evidence arrived from Armenia the case of Nestlé's entry into the market was featured on the action sheet in November 1997. The company clearly thought it could get away with the blatant open advertising because those who knew about the World Health Assembly marketing requirements were not watching. The letters showed people around the world were watching and knew the details to accuse it of breaking the marketing requirements.

The UK Corporate Affairs Department replied to the campaign stating: "We are in the process of reviewing our distribution arrangements in Armenia which will enable the monitoring of compliance with the International Code."

The blatant advertising in Armenia stopped. Nestlé's methods became subtler, such as recruiting paediatricians to recommend its products. We have continued to expose these practices and those of competitors. Hipp has been a particular concern.

Aspects of the marketing requirements have now been introduced in legislation in Armenia and breastfeeding rates have increased markedly. Those who wrote letters in 1997 and since can claim some of the credit.

The Armenian paediatrician recalled the impact of this campaign when I interviewed her in April 2006. You can listen to the interview by clicking here.

Sunday, October 01, 2006

Buying friends and influencing people

It has been one of those days when the strength of the International Baby Food Action Network (IBFAN) is demonstrated. It is a great antidote to the past few days of trying to counter Nestlé's lobbying at the Labour Party Conference. There is a common theme, though: Nestlé opening its cheque book as a way to make friends with people.

IBFAN is a partnership. There is no IBFAN head office. It is a network of groups trying to stop baby food companies putting infant health at risk through aggressive promotion. The International Code of Marketing of Breastmilk Substitutes and other Resolutions adopted by the World Health Assembly are our tools.

India is a good example where campaigners have been able to achieve change. The Code and Resolutions were introduced in legislation in 1992. Our partner organisation has the authority under the law to take companies to court if the law is broken. Johnson & Johnson pulled out of selling feeding bottles after being taken to court for illegal advertising by the IBFAN group in India. Nestlé was taken to court in 1995 for failing to label formula with the warnings specified in the law or translating them into Hindi. Though it changed its labels, that court case is still on-going. The process was delayed as Nestlé took the government to court in a failed attempt to have the law scrapped. (Read this report for more information).

In 2003 the law was strengthened in fact. It now includes a ban on company sponsorship of health workers. Even before that, in 1997, the Indian Academy of Pediatrics had a voluntary ban on sponsorship.

I always think of the Indian doctors who prefer to buy their own lunch than take company money when health workers here in the UK claim they couldn't have their conferences without company sponsorship (I've a story to tell about an on-going concerted campaign by a UK midwife to get Nestlé-sponsored materials into the National Health Service - but that is for another day).

In India they appreciate that companies invest in sponsorship as a way to influence health workers and reach mothers. Even though it is now illegal, companies still try. One of our IBFAN partners has produced a briefing on how Nestlé is trying and sometimes succeeding to sponsor events despite the law. And how access to health facilities then enables a company representative to hand out leaflets to mothers. One was caught doing just that by a doctor who knew the law. He confiscated the leaflets and is calling for action 'against their unethical and illegal designs'.

That's where you and I come in. We have the opportunity to tell the world what Nestlé is really doing in India. You can download the briefing paper from our Indian partner organisation at http://bpni.org/cgi/information_sheets/Breaking_the_Breaking_the_Law.pdf

Next week I'll post information on what you can do to help stop Nestlé ignoring the law in India.